Monday, March 31, 2014

Humble Pie

How can I say this? I am trying to be as polite and thoughtful as I can. Ok, here we go - The Lord does not need you. I did not say the Lord does not want you. I did not say that the Lord did not choose you in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world. I did not say that the Lord does not love you - He sent His own Son to die for you - and to cleanse you from your sins individually. But it is important for you to know, that if you decide not to respond to His love, God will still be God and He will get along in eternity just fine.

As John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing, several Pharisees and Sadducees came from Jerusalem to hear his message. They were not doing so in order to hear truth and engage in personal reflection, but rather, they wanted to discredit him. So John told them, "Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones'" (Luke 3:8). These "religious giants" needed a nice big slice of humble pie. Somehow they had become so confident in their personal performance of the Law of Moses, they probably thought they were doing God a favor. John was telling them to get over themselves.

It took me too long in ministry to figure out that I am nothing and that God is everything. What a dangerous path we begin to go down when we start believing that somehow we are divine! Paul understood. He looked at his past life and said he was the chief of sinners. He looked at the grace of God and said that grace made him who he was in Christ. We need to remember every day that Jesus died for us, and that without His sacrifice we would be eternally lost. This keeps us humble, and helps us appreciate God's goodness in the face of our disobedience.

When Mordecai approach Esther about going before the king, he told her that deliverance for the Jews was coming, whether she decided to be a part of it or not. I have thought a great deal about that in the last three years. The church is going to heaven, whether I am going or not. The gospel will be preached, whether I preach it or not. Goodness and kindness will exist in this world on some level until Jesus comes, whether I am good or kind or I am not. The Bible will overcome every opposing attack upon it, whether I defend the Bible or not. God will be loved, glorified, praised, and will remain the supreme and sovereign God, whether I decided to fully submit to Him or not.

These facts are what make being a Christian and having the privilege and opportunity to serve in His kingdom so amazing. We are so unworthy of such a blessing. We are simply stones. God has created the material universe, including the human race in His own image with nothing more than the sound of His voice. We are just rocks! But God can do incredible things with rocks!

“So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ ” ~ Luke 17:10

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When the Shoe Doesn't Fit

Certainly you have seen several versions of this bumper sticker by now. But you may not know there is an actual "Coexist Foundation" - a charitable organization based in London, England, which aims to improve religious relationships between people of Islamic, Jewish, and Christian faiths. While we can appreciate any effort that has a peaceful aim, we must also ask ourselves whether or not the plea that is being made by this group, or any organization is according to truth.

During our gospel meeting this past week, brother Dave Phillips, preacher for the Germantown congregation, put these two symbols up on his power-point presentation. He was making an observation about our current world's desire for tolerance. In the middle of his sermon my son Luke, who just turned 13, made an observation of his own. He whispered to my wife, "I find it ironic that the "x" in coexist for one of these bumper stickers is a "swastika," while in the other it is the "Star of David." I think he is on to something here.

One of the ways in which truth is twisted is through perception. But the problem with perception in relation to truth is, truth resides outside of our own opinions. It is objective. The world attempts to make truth subjective (which is also what Satan does) - to give each one the opportunity to decide what is true and what is false. But truth doesn't work that way.

It is interesting to note that it was actually Buddha who said, "Three things cannot be long hidden, the sun, the moon, and the truth." And it was Mahatma Ghandi who said, "An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it." In other words, the truth will find its place, because a lie told a thousand times is still a lie, no matter who says it and no matter how it is presented. Truth is greater and stronger than man because it does not originate nor is it dependent upon the understanding or the acceptance of the human race.

The Bible says that "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). It also tells us that we can know the truth if we abide in His word and that this truth can makes us free (John 8:31-32). Jesus came into the world, that He might bear witness of the truth (John 18:37). He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We can be sanctified by the truth, which is defined specifically as the word of God (John 17:17). And, "He who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God" (John 3:21).

Our culture understands the expression, "If the shoe fits, wear it." What that little phrase is simply stating, is that if what is being said is true, then it ought to be accepted. If such is the case, then it would be right and fair to say, in reciprocal fashion, "If the shoe doesn't fit, take it off." The Jewish Star and the Nazi Swastika can never "coexist." They are at odds with each other. That shoe just won't marry the prince - you can ask Cinderella's step-sisters.

In our twenty-first century world that is screaming "tolerance!" - there are some things truth just won't tolerate. I don't care how many times I hear it, see it, or am told to believe it. If God's word rejects it, than the shoe doesn't fit and I refuse to wear it.

Pray that God will give us the hearts and the minds to coexist on the planet He created for us to dwell upon. But make sure that within that prayer you accept His own will about it. God is the one who has called us into fellowship - and He is the one who has the power to unite us, and He specifically and exclusively and universally has chosen to call us into fellowship by the power of the blood of His Son (1 Cor. 1:9). One day we will coexist - but not here. That is not the plan.

"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore,“Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters,says the Lord Almighty.'” ~ 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Man from Crockett County

Sixteen years ago, almost to the day, I met a man who would forever change my life. It was the spring of 1998 and I had agreed to go and preach for the Christian Chapel church of Christ on Gibson Wells Road. This was located between Humboldt, Alamo, and Trenton, Tennessee. I was finishing up my Masters Degree at Freed-Hardeman, and I was engaged to Amber Faughn (who is my wife of 16 years exactly to the day as I write this - Happy Anniversary, Dear!). I was excited about the opportunity of being a full-time preacher for this small country congregation. Dr. Clyde Woods had set me up to preach there. Dr. Billy Smith had preached there for 16 years before going to work with the Estes congregation - the church had a great history of preachers besides those men. So for a year, every Sunday morning and Sunday night and Wednesday night I drove to Christian Chapel from Jackson, TN, and this wonderful, loving group of Christians, about 40 of them, let me cut my teeth from their pulpit.

But one man from the congregation in particular became a personal friend to me. Over the years he was like another father. He lived in Crockett County, near Alamo, off highway 54. By the way, he always wanted you to know he lived in Crockett and not Gibson County. He liked to make funny and harmless jokes about the Gibson County folk. He had a farm there off the highway right on the Obion river bottom, and farmland in other local places that he had purchased from family members over the years, about 1000 acres in all. He was a cotton man, and every year he would grow some of the prettiest cotton east of the Mississippi.

When he found out I liked to fish he invited me to come see the place. He had a levee built to harbor a private lake on the back of his farm that hugged the edge of the bottom land. Rains would bring in healthy waters and the lake was nearly 20 acres in its hay day. The first day I went there I caught a 5 pound bass. I was hooked. I had the time to go every week nearly, and sometimes more than once a week. I will tell you in that first year I knew Billy Hudson, the man from Crockett County, we fished and fished and I probably caught at least 1,000 bass, not to mention, crappie, bream, and other fish. And the fish were healthy and large!

The first time we drove out to the back of the farm Billy put me on the back of his 3-wheel Honda ATV. I was scared to death the way he was driving. It was a warm day in February and we went down to the lake and rode the levee to look for a place to fish from the edge (later we always used a boat). He failed to mention to me that at the time the bottom was infested with cottonmouths. He took his 22 along with us at his side and as we rode the levee he shot about 20, some at point-blank range. One in particular he shot while it had its mouth open about to strike at my pant-leg. I am telling you I had only been away from California for about a year or so and it was about all this city boy could handle! His cousin, Buddy, had enough of the snake problem, and later that week he went down to the lake and killed 91 snakes. We never had much of an issue after that! (We still had to kill snakes now and then).

But the lake was such a good fishery, I couldn't stay away. And Billy was so fun to be with. My dad, who was my all-time fishing partner, stilled lived in California, and being with Billy was like being with him, pure fun. Billy had low-sugar and he used to have to take Snickers bars and Pepsi-Cola along on our outings. He jokingly would say I would keep him out there in the hot sun to his death because I liked the water so much. We talked and laughed and enjoyed God's creation and the beauty of Christianity together. We talked about our families and the Bible and just things that guys need other guys to talk about. He had a lot of good advice and I cherished learning from him. He helped me immediately to be a better husband and eventually a better father.

Billy's youngest daughter, Morgan, was a young teen who also attended with us at Christian Chapel. She had recently been baptized when I first arrived there, and Amber had several young ladies her age to work with and encourage in the church. For Amber and me, it was truly our first work together in the church and we enjoyed it. I have never seen a father love a daughter more than Billy loved Morgan. She was his late edition, and he cherished her even more because he had gone through a difficult divorce. Billy was determined to do everything he could for Morgan. He enrolled her in a private Christian school in Jackson and drove her everyday. He wanted her to be a strong Christian and have the joy that comes only through Christ, the very thing Billy himself clung to throughout the most difficult times of his life - losing his parents and siblings, and his wives, and going through heart surgeries and other health issues. Billy was a simple man, but he was the best kind of man. He believed in God, the Bible, family, hard work, and if he was your friend you would find no man more loyal or more giving. He loved to laugh and joke, and he had a smile and a chuckle that I can see and hear in the corner of my mind that will never leave me this side of heaven.

In the spring of 1999 I was given the opportunity to move to a congregation in southern Kentucky. Ironically we moved to a church that was only 10 minutes away from Billy's place on Kentucky Lake. He had taken me there once the year before. I would never have imagined my new home would be so closely located. Only about 2 miles away from his lake spot I met my next elderly farmer friend, Greg Ferguson. Billy had always wanted me to get into deer hunting, but he warned me I might get addicted. He was right. I have been hunting on the Ferguson farm for the last 14 years. I still go back every fall.

It was nice to have an excuse to see Billy and Morgan when they would come up to the lake. I had never ridden a jet-ski before Billy put me on one. For a man in his sixties I was impressed to watch him on a jet-ski. He was pretty talented at anything he tried. He scared me on that thing like he did on the three wheeler - but at least no snakes this time - just a lot of fast water. Over the years I would travel back to fish and visit the Hudson place. My dad would go with me when he was out for a visit from California. On June 28, 1999, my dad and I had the greatest moment of our fishing lives at Billy's lake. Dad caught an 8-pound, 8-ounce bass. I grabbed it with my hand and lifted into the boat and we celebrated. As I look over my left shoulder while I write this, that bass hangs on my wall. My Papa Tatum, my dad's dad, was also there on that occasion. I will remember that moment always. I am so blessed!

I really have enough material on Billy Hudson to write a book, but I will include one funny story about him in this tribute today to just help you understand his humor. Every Sunday evening for the year we were at Christian Chapel, we would go eat with a group of about 15 folks in Trenton at the Majestic Steakhouse. What fun times! One evening a waitress came to serve us - and to Billy's dismay she had an eye-brow piercing. He knew what that was, but he wanted to give her a hard time. As she introduced herself as our waitress, Billy replied, "Girl! What have you done? You've done missed your ear and done caught yourself up in your eye!" Then he giggled. I had to leave the table because I didn't want to laugh too hard for too long in front of the waitress.

Being with Billy Hudson was just different. It was different in the best way. He was honest. He was good. He was funny. He was sincere. He was loving. He was unselfish. He was a man who knew how to live in the joy of Christ. I wish everyone who calls themselves a Christian could be as happy about life as he was.

Billy had a lot of health problems, but he lived through them. He toughed it out to his 80th birthday on February 3rd of this year. I always remembered his birthday because it was the day after Groundhog Day. He went on to be with the Lord a week later.

In the movie, "A River Runs Through It" - the main character's last words, as he looks back at the past fishing experiences with his deceased dad and brother are - "I am haunted by waters." What he meant was that all he had left were memories, and the days with those men he could not reclaim. My dad and my brother Billy have also gone on now - but I am not haunted by waters. I am cleansed by them. The fondness of those days of my maturity have woven together the fabric of my personality and have shaped my dreams. And the waters that have cleansed me spiritually, to which dad and Billy also once submitted, will one day reunite us all in the everlasting kingdom of our Father. Where there will be no more death, no separation, no more sorrow, and no more pain. I can't wait!

I don't know why God has blessed me so richly to have such men in my life. But I understand that I will be forever indebted not only to my Creator, but to the men who taught me how to be a man myself. Who enjoyed mentoring me.

There was a man from Crockett County. His name was Billy Hudson. He changed my life.

(the photo above includes Billy Hudson (left), Richard Lane (middle), and myself (right) - at the age of about 25). Billy had this picture framed and in his bedroom. I thank Morgan for taking a picture of it with her phone and sending it to me).
Dad's Fish

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Straight Talk About Modesty

As I begin to write this article, the sun is shining outside and the weather is warming up and the anticipation of springtime is upon us. It is usually in this time of year that elders and preachers all over our nation begin to focus on at least a sermon or two or an article about modesty. Warm weather sparks the beginning of less clothing for all of us - let's face it, you just don't need as many clothes in July as you do in January. It makes sense to be functional and to dress according to the weather.

That being said, we haven't needed to wait for warm weather to have this discussion. Christianity is a year-round lifestyle and our church building is heated enough that people have been wearing far too little to our worship services already. It is hard to imagine some wearing any less, and it is almost scary to begin to think about what might come through the doors of our building in the coming months.

There is no official dress code for worship - but there is an official dress code for Christians. It is what God calls modest and decent and appropriate. Our number one goal in life and in worship should be to please God. If that is not our focus then we need not leave our homes until that attitude is in place. What I am about to write in the next few lines is specifically intended for our worship services on this occasion - but I would like to think that on some level it can be applied to how we ought to clothe ourselves every single day and in most every situation.

1. Some have argued that they are wearing what they are wearing because "It is comfortable." But much of what people wear to services for their comfort makes everyone else uncomfortable. We have men that have commented to me that they will not enter some of our Bible class rooms because they do not want to see what they have been seeing. Too much leg exposure, not enough coverage up top, and so on.

2. Some have argued that they are wearing what they are wearing because "It is fashionable." I realize that it is difficult in this world in which we live to find modest clothing on the rack at the mall. But my question is "fashionable to whom?" I sincerely do not care about the fashion world. I am sorry but that is what is going on in the world, and if I have to sacrifice what is godly in order to be fashionable I will take a pass. My soul and my influence are worth far more to me than fitting into the world's mold for my life.

3. Some have argued that they are wearing what they are wearing because it is their prerogative and that it is "none of anybody's business." This is a selfish attitude. When I leave my home everything I project becomes the business of others because I am subjecting them to it. If I am cross I need to change my expression. If I am judgmental I need to change my heart. If I am derogatory I need to change my language. If I am immodest I need to change my clothes.

This is not a fun topic. It gives me no pleasure to discuss it. I need to think about how this applies to how I dress, and I feel the need to examine myself about it and apply it to me first. Sometimes you just have to say what needs to be said because you love God and mankind too much to remain silent. So this is some straight talk from your preacher. I love you. Let's work together. Let's make sure not to be a stumbling block to each other, but rather a blessing to the adoration and praise of our God. Let's look in the mirror before we leave home and come to worship and ask the sincere question, "Is God pleased with what I am wearing to worship today?"

"Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way." ~ Romans 14:13

"This is what the Lord spoke, saying: 'By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.'" ~ Leviticus 10:3